Monthly Archives: January 2015

The emotional challenges of global climate change

Twenty-seven concerned elders gathered recently in a meeting room at the David Suzuki Foundation in Vancouver, British Columbia. The occasion was the Suzuki Elders’ first attempt at a Salon, defined as “a gathering where people talk in a way that is meant to be listened to and perhaps passionately acted upon”. Salons are incubators where ideas are conceived, gestated, and hatched. They can be frontiers of social and cultural change. The subject chosen for this first Salon was the emotional challenges posed by global climate change.

What is climate change? Life on Earth is possible only because of the warmth of the sun. While much of the incoming solar radiation is reflected back into space, a small portion of it is trapped by the thin layer of gases that make up our insulating atmosphere. One of these gases is carbon dioxide (CO2) which is released by activities such as the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) and the cutting down of trees. Earth’s atmosphere today contains 42% more carbon dioxide than it did before the industrial era. In fact, we humans have released so much CO2 and other greenhouse gases that our planet’s atmosphere is now like a thick, heat-trapping blanket. Since 1900 the global average temperature has risen by 0.8o C and the northern hemisphere is substantially warmer than at any point during the past 1000 years. The year 2014 was the warmest year on meteorological record.

Why need we become emotional about the climate change process? The answer lies in the pages of the 2014 reports from the InterIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the international body set up to assess climate change. The IPCC summarize the present and anticipated environmental impacts in this schematic.IPCC 2014 global climate change

How are we to react to this portend of our Earth’s future? As Elders experienced in leadership and concerned about our environment, what are our challenges in the work for change? How do we help each other harness the inevitable emotions brought on by contemplating such changes and embark on a path of action to make a difference to the our future world?Meadows

The salon participants attempted to encapsulate their emotions through descriptive couplets describing their personal responses to the phrase “global climate change.”Noun-adjective pairs shadowed

Our dilemma is that we face difficult choices. We may decide that we will do nothing to change the present path the world is on, or reach the conclusion that whatever we do will be too little and too late or inadequate to do enough good. Alternatively we might choose to work as hard and as fast as we can to reduce impacts on our global support systems and do the very best we can to avert catastrophe. Any way we choose will result in massive changes for all earth’s creatures. Whichever way we proceed, everyone – leaders and others – will have their well-being and their ability to function effectively challenged. Leaders will need to be grounded in this realization and be prepared to guide others.

One of us (Don) described his path from early concerns about environmental damage, inspired by Rachael Carson, to his involvement with the Transition Town movement on Bowen Island, British Columbia. There he met with a small study group (Inner Transitions) that explored the place of grief as a part of being alive and as an outcome of knowing about the predicaments of the world.

Don introduced the concept of the importance of grief as a possible important part of SE’s work, but soon found that this perspective was too narrow. When he reframed his ideas it became clear that there were in fact many emotions that were involved. Activists and some leaders think about the world’s predicaments and realize what is happening. On the other hand, many people don’t seem to have any appreciation of the issues, they may be deniers or they simply don’t care.

Activists and leaders will experience emotions that help them in their work or alternatively they might have to grapple with emotions that hinder what they are doing or that affect their personal well-being. To help and work with persons in the community at large, we need to know whether their emotions help them see the need to participate or drive them away, possibly incapacitating them personally. We must also consider how emotions affect our youth. The task then becomes to:

  • collectively get clear about what emotions are and how they affect our work;
  • individually get in touch with the effects of our personal emotions;
  • work together in supporting each other in collective and individual exploration.

What to do with emotions
The Salon demonstrated significant interest in knowing about and exploring further the relationship between emotions, actions on climate change and elder leadership. There are several directions that we can engage in from here:

  • Investigate at a theoretical level, perhaps with experienced help, what emotions are and how they can affect behavior.
  • Relate how the use of an awareness of emotions can influence how the Suzuki Elders work with climate change. How is our own leadership affected by emotions?
  • Begin working at our individual emotional exploration, particularly about grief.
  • Establish a grief support group, as in Transition Town’s Heart and Soul groups, perhaps in collaboration with Village Vancouver.
  • Consider the possibility of carrying our understanding of the effect of emotions throughout the SE community, and to the wider community.

 Posted by Don Marshall and Stan Hirst


Human Nature

We must all understand that Human Nature, Human Being, is not something apart from the biosphere which provides our life support system. This is especially important for you young people who are taking over the decision-making processes that govern all of our lives. The well-being of present and future generations of Human Beings depends on our relationships with each other and with everything else in Nature. This is the essence of Human Nature.

Nature, or Mother Nature as many of us prefer to recognize her, comes from a delicately balanced relationship between our Mother Earth and the Sun, our father, just as each of us comes from an intimate relationship between our human mother and father. This is one of the important truths that tribal peoples all around the world have known for thousands of years. Many people have lost sight of this and other truths of Human Nature in recent generations. They are not aware of the origins and evolution of our species or the need for us to contribute to maintaining a healthy relationship with others in Mother Nature’s life support system as we live each day.

Elders in ancient communities, and a good number living with us today, have been a very important resource to young people. Through many years of experience and learning, much of it passed to them from their elders, they have acquired knowledge and wisdom that can be very helpful in seeing the truth, and what is truly valuable in our lives. It is so important that the facts of life, of Mother Nature and Human Nature, are not lost in the avalanche of TV, internet and other media commercials from corporations and politicians who work hard at convincing us that accumulating household possessions and boosting national economic growth are the most important things in our lives.

So, is this Mother Nature – Human Nature relationship spiritual, biological, cultural or what? It is all three. The biological and spiritual relationship is pretty clear to any thinking person who acknowledges that Human Being involves body, mind and spirit for each of us. As for culture, countless stories, songs, essays and books have been spoken, performed and written by inspired elders and others through the centuries. This happens within the cultural context of each story teller. People who study cultural expressions from around the world and over the centuries are invariability struck by the common themes of creation and Human Nature. The stories reflect different climates, landscapes, water features, plants, animals and other unique aspects of their local environment. They tell of local history, traditions and ancestors, but they speak of the same processes of creation and the same interrelationships of Human Nature, Mother Nature and the Creator.8247810764_02991d8aee_o

As an elder I hold the view that our culture and the collective expressions of Human Nature are associated with one or more communities. The traditional, customary and ‘new wave’ behaviour that is associated with these social unions expresses the culture that we each chose to involve ourselves in. Our individual communities are local elements of tribes, religions, nations, provinces and other cultural creations that evolve and transform over time.

My primary community relationship beyond family is with naturalists. They are in my view a tribe that covers the Earth, with many local communities that share a unifying respect and appreciation of Nature. They welcome and support one another. What naturalists lack in the kind of wealth and power that governments and corporations build for themselves is more than made up for by their close adherence to truth, respect and awe. These stem from philosophy, the parent of science, art and all of the best expressions of Human Nature.

I grew up in a place called Indiana, originally a territory designated by the young government of the United States as a land base for the indigenous tribes in the area and other American Indian people who were displaced from their traditional territories. Sadly this did not stand. There are many lessons to be learned from this history and similar stories of the conquest of the Americas, Africa and other places by cultures of European origin – examples of the darker side of Human Nature.

Connecting with our Human Nature and other beings with which we share landscapes and ecosystems that sustain us can inspire and uplift us as we struggle with life’s day-to-day challenges. As a Boy Scout in Indiana and a university student in the west coast region I thought I had learned what Nature was all about. But that didn’t really happen until I began spending time with tribal people, first in East Africa and then in North America. What I had been missing before this happened was a deeper understanding of the importance of respecting the universe, Mother Earth, Mother Nature and our Human Nature as gifts from the Creator. I sometimes feel a loss in that I am no longer closely connected with my indigenous tribal ancestors, the Celtic people of northern Europe. This connection is, however, coming back slowly as I continue to expand my life’s learning experiences and ability to connect.

Having discovered my spiritual and cultural connections with naturalists early on has made up for the personal losses I felt as I distanced myself through the years from the religion, nationality and other cultural inheritances I grew up with. The best things about being a naturalist are the great beauty, wonder, excitement and peace that you experience as you connect with Mother Nature. Political boundaries are not a primary consideration and it costs little to enjoy this great gift!

Human Nature, as I said in my earlier blog back in November 2013, involves cultural choices like whether to allow biologically harmful industrial forestry to take place in our watersheds or make sure that ecoforestry is practiced instead. This is what stewardship of our environment and natural resources is all about. Good life choices will bring people together – bad ones will bring conflict and a less healthy, poorer environment for future generations.

In his book The Sacred Balance: discovering our place in Nature, David Suzuki helped us to understand that we Human Beings have an important role in maintaining Mother Nature’s wonders, especially her complex and delicate eco-systems that are both ecological and economic life support systems required for human well being. This is the responsibility aspect of Human Nature, being caretakers and stewards of our natural environment. It makes us special, right?waterfalls-forest-landscape


Posted by Josef Kuhn